22 January, 2008

A little off topic, but...

Usually the smart Venezuelan opposition blog Caracas Chronicles is busy slamming Chavismo and waxing eloquent on the disappearance of the Habermasian public sphere. Recently, however, I came across a wonderful little post on the author's attempt to teach himself Japanese. He begins by describing the difference between alphabetic and ideographic (Chinese and Japanese) languages:

So the relationship between image, sound and meaning is just sliced up in a fundamentally different way. Alphabetic writing links the image of the word on the page with a sound and leaves it up to us to memorize its (arbitrary) meaning. Ideographic writing links the image of the word on the page with a meaning and forces us to memorize an (arbitrary) sound.

If you want a pretty cool visual demonstration of just what that means, check out the whole post -- I'm not sure the characters will come through on debaser. As a former, and hopefully future, student of Chinese, this is one of the best (short) descriptions I have found for how the vastly different structure of Far Eastern languages shapes the manner in which the mind approaches and communicates the reality that confronts it. Good stuff.

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